Vanderkloof largies under threat
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Just when the newly discovered largemouth yellowfish gem was made, Vanderkloof Dam, the existence of our largest freshwater sportfish, fondly called “largies” are now under threat in this dam. Largemouth yellowfish numbers has recently plummeted due to waterpollution, overfishing and competition with alien fish species across it’s natural distribution range.
In Vanderkloof Dam, largemouths have found one of it’s last safe heavens. The reason being that fishing pressure is low in this rural area far away from all mayor centers, and fishing is done by conservation minded anglers that support catch and release principles. Good water quality and abundance of structure also helps with largemouth numbers.
According to Francois Fouche, secretariat of the Vanderkloof Angling Club, Rhodes University in co-operation with the Department of Agriculture has started with a study for the approval of “sustainable netting” of the fish in the dam. Mr. Fouche says that one of the main reasons given for the planned netting is the high numbers of smallmouth yellowfish, the cousin of the largemouth yellowfish also found in the dam.
According to the Rhodes University’s “Rural Fisheries Program” representative, Mr. Qurban Ali Rouhani, “there are enough smallmouth yellowfish numbers in the dam to justify netting”. What makes this idea worrying is that ordinances have been passed in all the provinces where both these species occur, to protect both indigenous species. Most provinces ordinances states that largemouth yellowfish are a catch and release specie only, and that smallmouth only 2-3 fish can be taken by angler allowing they are longer than 30-45cm in length. One of the reasons given by the “Rural Fisheries Program” is that smallmouth yellowfish have a “negative” influence on other species in the dam. This statement is very hard to believe as smallmouth are indigenous to the dam and river, and most likely the only species that might be negatively influenced are the alien species also found in the dam namely carp and black bass, which numbers are lower than yellowfish it seems. The whole idea of netting this dam and it’s yellowfish goes strongly against the new NE:MBA regulations that protect indigenous fauna and flora against alien species. Should netting occur in the dam, yellowfish numbers will fall, and the void left will most likely be filled by the alien species like carp and bass. Both yellowfish species are slow breeders, and largemouth yellowfish can take up to seven years before being breeding mature and weigh just over 2 kg. Where the alien carp and bass mature at half this rate and egg counts can be twice as high. Further netting smallmouth yellows will lead to largemouth also being netted as both species share the same habitat. According to a fish conservationist no matter what size gill net is used the mesh size will catch both species of yellowfish.
Northern Cape Conservation, under whose control Vanderkloof Dam falls, seems to take a “neutral” stance during this planning and discussion phase. Free State has very little say over the dam as an agreement was made that Gariep Dam falls under Free State Conservation and Vanderkloof Dam under the Northern Cape. According to some locals from the small town also called Vanderkloof, situated on the banks of the dam, no proper environmental impact study was done by Rhodes University and it ‘s partners, as it should take about 1-3 years to do a proper study on fish numbers, movements and ecological impact it would have removing certain numbers of species.
After the highly publicized trophy catch of the largemouth of 11.5 kg has the local community of Vanderkloof recognized the importance of this sustainable eco tourism magnet, the largemouth yellowfish a truly flagship specie. Lodges have been inundated with calls from anglers across the country and even from America and Europe, all wanting to come and fish for “largies”. Some refer to the largemouth yellowfish as our “freshwater rhino” due to the constant battle to preserve this specie and it’s waters, before it becomes critically endangered.
The local Vanderkloof community, consisting of lodges, restaurants and local anglers are also now working with “Fishtube.TV” a “Roam Free” Fishing Conservation Initiative, who is helping with the construction of yellowfish conservation and information boards that will be placed in the town and also around the dam at strategic places. Fishtube.tv strongly supports the actions taken to protect large and smallmouth yellowfish in the dam.
The community is also planning to form a “forum” that would lift objections against the netting with the next meeting held by the “Rural Fisheries Program”. Any persons or associations willing to support the forum in any way are more than welcome to contact Francois Fouche on: firstname.lastname@example.org or 0828219457. Furthermore, a petition board is available online where everyone can put their names as with the help of social media and social pressure, it is hoped the planned netting of our iconic freshwater sport fish, the largemouth might be stopped. Please visit: www.vanderkloofdam.co.za to sign the petition or leave comments. Feel free to register on our forum to discuss this topic and give us your views on the subject.